Firefighting, fire breaks and focusing on the essential

Firefighting, fire breaks and focusing on the essential
Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Something that comes up in some of the conversations I have with coaching clients is the concept of fire-fighting. Where we spend an inordinate amount of our time dealing with issue that pop up and feel like they are distracting us from doing the 'real', strategic work that we need to do. Over time, if unaddressed, this feeling of constant firefighting can become oppressive and demoralising as the constant firefighting gets in our way.

These fires are important, they can be symptoms of several different things, so its crucial that we address them.

Unattended items

Constant firefighting present an opportunity for reflection on whether our focus is on the right things. Maybe there are important things that are being left unattended, whilst we focus on other things, especially if the fires are consistently in the same areas, maybe the fires are a sign that we've got out priorities wrong and need to course correct.

What is fuelling the fires?

It is important for us to step back and think about the sources of these fires. Who's calling them to attention? who or what is creating the fires? Is there a pattern or root cause that can be identified? Are we putting out fires someone else is setting?

Let it burn

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Sometimes there's a fire and it just needs to burn itself out. There's absolutely nothing you can do to accelerate the burning, or mitigate the risk of the burning. This can be tricky, because i think sometimes we get draw into firefighting through our ego. We get alerted to a fire, its burning brightly, we feel like we need to take responsibility to put that fire out, but we might waste a load of effort doing that, that could be better spent elsewhere.

Can we actually make an impact on that fire? I guess that's a key question. Is the fire likely to spread, and what's the impact? Am i the best person, best placed to put this fire out?

Fire breaks!

Stretching the firefighting metaphor again. What are the fire breaks we can put in place? In a reactive situation, when a fire has broken out and the best approach is risk mitigation, what fire breaks can we put in place to minimise the impact and minimise the risk of the fire spreading

Thinking proactively, what might cause a catch fire? What can we do now to prevent it from catching fire? What pre-emptive dowsing can we do, to wet the ground and reduce the likelihood of a potential spark igniting that problem? If there's a particular area of business, or technology or person where fires regularly start, or a particular area of your project where fires regularly start, then once we identify it we can be proactive and implement the fire breaks before the problem ignites.

How do you prevent or fight fires? Let me know on:


Richard Sage (
73 Posts, 195 Following, 73 Followers · CTIO, Executive/Leader Coach, Consultant, Strategist, Architect. Transforming orgs thru Tech & helping Tech Leaders transform orgs